Safety violations, exploitation allegations emerge in GOM platform fire investigation
By Nell Lukosavich, Senior Editor
HOUSTON -- Following the November 16 fire on the Black Elk Energy-operated West Delta Block 32 platform, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has launched an investigation into the incident that caused the deaths of three workers.
Ellroy Corporal and Avelino Tajonera were pronounced dead within days of the incident. Jerome Malagapo, who has been missing since the incident, was pronounced dead after his body was recovered earlier this week. Eleven others were also injured in the fire.
All workers aboard the platform were contracted from the Philippines by Grand Isle Shipyard, which, along with D&R Offshore and Crewing Services, which provides staffing services for Grand Isle, is facing charges of abusive and exploitative working conditions, filed by 20 former Filipino workers last year. The suit describes the 'improper' conditions in which the workers were forced to live and work, with pay as little as $5.50 an hour, according to court filings.
Currently, BSEE has ordered Black Elk to cease all similar operations in the Gulf of Mexico, following an investigation that revealed several safety violations over the previous 24 months. In a letter BSEE stated that there were 45 non-compliance incidents issued to the company, including a chemical accident that injured six employees.
Pending a further investigation, Black Elk has been ordered to shut off flow at its facilities until each facility is deemed compliant with BSEE’s safety policies, which must now pass a BSEE inspection to go back online. A properly-trained safety manager must also be in place at each facility. Other BSEE requirements state that Black Elk must provide a performance improvement plan to the government agency’s auditors, begin an independent third-party audit, and submit a report on all non-compliance incidents since 2010 within 30 days to BSEE.
The accident took place while workers aboard the platform were using a blow torch to perform maintenance work. The platform was offline at the time of the incident, which occurred 20 mi off the coast of Louisiana.
Black Elk operates around 150 platforms in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.